‘An offence to liberty’: Author Zadie Smiths lashes out at Yarl’s Wood

The campaign against the detention of women in Yarl's Wood has been endorsed by Zadie Smith, who branded the practice a "shame to any civilised nation".

The intervention by the author comes ahead of a protest outside the Home Office in which the government will be pressed to end the practice of detaining women in immigration removal centres.

"For the women detained inside it, Yarl's Wood is a surreal waking nightmare: a prison that looks like a sports centre, nestled in a business park," Smith wrote.

"Transported in the back of a van – often by cover of night – handcuffed, detained for no crime, and held indefinitely with no stated date of release – how could this happen, in Britain? Many of the women in Yarl's Wood must wonder if the British people are aware that it exists at all.

"It's no accident that this detention centre is tucked away in a pretty corner of Bedfordshire. Out of sight, out of mind. For how many of us want to wake up with the knowledge that we live in a country willing to imprison victims of rape and torture, who have arrived at our shores to request asylum? How many want to hear how much it costs our government to contract a private company to detain hundreds of vulnerable women who have committed no criminal acts?

"Who wants to think a civilised country would give a woman 71p a day to spend? Or deprive her of decent medical care? Or force her kicking and screaming on to a plane? These things could only make a form of twisted sense if we, as a country, had come to see migration itself as a criminal offence. Is that really what we believe?

"We need urgently to address the outrage of Yarl's Wood. Its continued existence is an offence to liberty, a shame to any civilised nation, and a personal tragedy for the women caught in its illogical grip."

The protest at the Home Office is being organised by Women for Refugee Women, a group formed after a campaign by Meltem Avcil, a student held at Yarl's Wood with her mother when she was just 13.

"These women have not committed any crime," she wrote.

"They have come to this country to seek asylum, to find refuge from persecution.

"If a woman has already experienced rape, torture, imprisonment in her home country then it is really hard for her to be locked up here. Women become depressed and suicidal in detention."

Yarl's Wood has been at the centre of several controversies in recent years, including hunger strikes by inmates.

An anonymous independent medical adviser who worked at the centre recently told Politics.co.uk how women from the centre with extensive bruising were described in nursing notes as having no injuries.

Women's rights campaigners are particularly concerned at the effect of detention on women who have been tortured or raped.

Many women at the centres who have experienced sexual assault are distraught at finding that male staff can enter their rooms freely at night in detention centres.